VIDEO FROM THE PETER SHAW MEMORIAL AWARD PRESENTATION WITH AMY WAX
A Summary of the Controversy
On Thursday, April 12, National Association of Scholars will honor Amy Wax for her academic courage by presenting her with the Peter Shaw Memorial Award. Amy Wax is a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and serves on the NAS board of directors.
For those who are unfamiliar with the controversy and targeting that Professor Wax has faced since last year, below is a summary of events and actions that have taken place over the past several months. The summary also serves to demonstrate why NAS and others believe Professor Wax deserves to be honored.
On August 9, 2017, Professor Wax of the UPenn Law School and Professor Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego School of Law co-published an op-ed on Philly.com titled, “Paying the price for breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture.”
At the time, NAS President Peter Wood summarized the op-ed as follows:
Last week Amy, along with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego School of Law, published an op-ed in which they extolled mid-twentieth century America for upholding the value of marriage, hard work, obeying the law, patriotism, neighborliness, civic-mindedness, charity, clean language, steering clear of addictive substances, and respect for authority.
These are, of course retrograde virtues in the eyes of many today. We have moved on to more relaxed views of sexual relations, self-discovery, personal choice, and expressiveness. We also have moved on to a considerably less relaxed view of anything that gets in the way of the dictates of social justice. So it gets a bit confusing. Marriage is a stultifying institution, except for gay marriage, which is liberating. Civic-mindedness is a bourgeois privilege, except for community organizing, which is progressive social action. Attempts to keep public language clean are outrageous infringements on free speech, but attempts to punish those who say hurtful things are valiant.
In their op-ed, Wax and Alexander didn’t call out these contradictions, but they did voice a straight-forward judgment: American culture of the 1950s was better than American culture now. They instance the huge increase in single-parent families, the waning work ethic, lack of patriotism, casual vulgarity, addiction, and disrespect for authority. And they say Americans ought to adopt those older bourgeois habits—and abandon the “multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden” that encourage our modern dysfunctional, anti-bourgeois culture.
Wax and Alexander added caveats. They don’t want a return to mid-century modern discrimination on grounds of race and sex. But too late: the PC patrol had spotted them and had released the Dogs of Outrage.
He summarized the ensuing outrage as well:
A group of unionizing graduate students, Graduate Employees Together—University of Pennsylvania (GET-UP), said that “We are outraged that a representative of our community upholds, and published, these hateful and regressive views.” Wax was immediately condemned by students and faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. Ted Ruger, Dean of the Penn Law School, wrote to disavow Wax, implicitly to characterize her argument as “divisive, even noxious,” and to “state my own personal view that as a scholar and educator I reject emphatically any claim that a single cultural tradition is better than all others.” Ruger also smeared Wax by implying that her views had something in common with those of the neo-Nazi murderer in Charlottesville: “Although uncoordinated and substantively distinct, the contemporaneous occurrence of these two events has generated widespread discussion both internally and externally about our core values as a university and a nation.”
Soon after the op-ed was published, the Daily Pennsylvanian conducted an interview with Professor Wax. This set off further outrage, and 33 of her law school colleagues published an open letter condemning Professor Wax for her thoughts and speech rather than addressing the points she made in the op-ed.
Then others called for her to be demoted, fired, and banned from teaching a required First Year law course.
There is a well-worn path that the outrage machine takes after it begins to move. First is the ferocious indignation and the calls to inflict pain on the target. Second is the effort to find something else from the past, or some other oversight (such as not filling out a form correctly) that can be used against the person.
In Professor Wax’s case, someone found an online interview with Professor Glenn Loury from September 2017, and the outrage machine was even more outraged about what she said in this interview.
From The New Criterion’s summary of these events:
At some point in March, a social justice vigilante came across an internet video of a conversation between Glenn Loury, a black, anti–affirmative action economics professor at Brown University, and Professor Wax. Titled “The Downside to Social Uplift,” the conversation, which was posted in September, revolved around some of the issues that Professor Wax had raised in her op-ed for the Inquirer. Towards the end of the interview, the painful subject of unintended consequences came up. The very practice of affirmative action, Professor Loury pointed out, entails that those benefitting from its dispensation will be, in aggregate, less qualified than those who do not qualify for special treatment. That’s what the practice of affirmative action means: that people who are less qualified will be given preference over people who are more qualified because of some extrinsic consideration—race, say, or sex or ethnic origin.
Professor Wax agreed and noted that one consequence of this was that those admitted to academic programs through affirmative action often struggle to compete. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class,” Professor Wax said, “and rarely, rarely in the top half.” Professor Wax also observed that the Penn Law Review had an unpublicized racial diversity mandate.
This observation proceeded to give new life to those who had wanted Professor Wax’s head back in 2017. Never mind that there is an in-depth conversation happening across the ideological spectrum about something called Mismatch Theory. Never mind that it is a legitimate area of debate, and that if it is an accurate representation of reality, then colleges might address it and help black students close any gaps that may exist.
None of this mattered to Dean Ruger, who in March removed Professor Wax from teaching the required First Year law course. He also gave a perfectly evasive response when asked if Professor Wax was correct. As Peter Wood described it:
Dean Ruger doesn’t actually say that Wax’s claims are false. He just says that “it is imperative” that he says they are false. The imperative is that he has a bunch of angry students demanding that he say so, regardless of accuracy. By golly, Dean Ruger is a man who lives up the imperatives, which may not include telling the truth.
Immediately after Professor Wax was banned from teaching the First Year law course, the leader of Black Lives Matters (BLM) Pennsylvania demanded that she be fired, and that if the law school did not take action, BLM would “begin disrupting classes and other campus activities with a wave of protests.”
The most recent news just occurred this week; Paul Levy, a now former Penn Trustee Emeritus and Penn Overseer, has resigned in protest of how Professor Wax has been treated. His letter to Penn President Amy Gutmann can be read here.
We will continue to monitor the situation, and keep our members updated as events unfold.
Image Credit: Amy Wax